October 7, 2004
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The real objective of Ariel Sharon's offer to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank is to freeze Palestinian statehood indefinitely, with U.S. blessing, the prime minister's point man with the Bush administration said in an interview published Wednesday.
The Haaretz daily also quoted the adviser, Dov Weisglass, as saying Israel is avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians because it does not want to discuss thorny issues such as the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
The unusually frank comments contradicted the Israeli government's assurances that it remains committed to the U.S.-backed "road map" and its vision of Palestinian statehood, and that Israel was ready to resume peace negotiations once the Palestinian leadership changes.
Sharon's office later issued a statement, saying the prime minister remains committed to the road map. However, in a newspaper interview last month, Sharon said Israel is no longer following the plan.
Weisglass told Israel Radio that Haaretz cut one of his quotes. "Everything that was said was that at the current time, with a broken-down Palestinian Authority, with murderous Palestinian terrorism, there is not and will not be peace negotiations that could, God forbid, lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state anchored in anarchy," he said.
Haaretz noted in its story that the quotes were excerpts and said the full interview would be published Friday.
Weisglass spoke as Israel's military waged a major campaign against Palestinian militants in the northern Gaza Strip. The offensive was launched a week ago, in response to Palestinian rocket fire that killed two Israeli children.
Since then, 75 Palestinians have been killed. The military said its missiles have killed dozens of members of rocket squads and gunmen, but Palestinian hospital officials said 30 of the dead were civilians, including women and children.
Weisglass told Haaretz that Sharon's plan of "unilateral disengagement" from the Palestinians, to be carried out next year, was meant to prevent a resumption of negotiations. "It (the plan) supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians," he was quoted as saying.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Weisglass has uncovered Israel's real intentions. "Weisglass claims that the Americans are supporting him, and I would like once again to hear an American response on that matter," he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had no immediate comment on the remarks.
The Israeli adviser's comments appeared largely aimed at courting Israeli hard-liners. The prime minister has lost his parliamentary majority over the withdrawal plan and has not been able to broaden his coalition during the summer recess. Parliament is reconvening next week and will vote on the Gaza withdrawal in coming months.
"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process," Weisglass told Haaretz. "Effectively, the whole package called the Palestinian state with all that entails has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission - all this with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."
Weisglass said Bush administration officials supported Sharon's plan to freeze the peace process with the Palestinians and keep large West Bank settlements.
"What I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns," he was quoted as saying.
Weisglass said that under Sharon's plan the vast majority of Jewish settlers in the West Bank would be allowed to stay. "Out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 will not be moved from their place," Haaretz quoted him as saying.
In the area of fighting, Israel stepped up missile attacks and tank fire.
Tanks fired several shells toward the Jebaliya refugee camp, scene of the heaviest fighting on Wednesday. A shell hit a house, killing a father and son, ages 55 and 25, and wounding eight members of the family, a Palestinian hospital official said. The army said troops fired after an anti-tank shell was launched from the house.
Also Wednesday, a 15-year-old boy died after being shot in the head by troops as he stood on the balcony of his home outside Jebaliya, doctors said.
In a news conference, members of the Hamas military wing posed with a Qassam rocket and other weapons and dared Israel to move deeper into Jebaliya.
"If the Zionist enemy tries to move into the camp, it will sink into the mud of Jebaliya," said a Hamas gunman in full military gear. Shortly after the news conference, militants fired another rocket from nearby.
In central Gaza, three Palestinian gunmen broke into the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom under cover of mortar and anti-tank fire and were killed in exchanges of fire with Israeli troops. A Thai worker was also killed in the fighting.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that he hoped the Israeli campaign in northern Gaza - the deadliest there in four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting - would end soon.
"The immediate problem right now is that Israeli built-up areas are being hit by rockets and Sharon finds a need to respond to that. I hope it does not expand," Powell said.
At the United Nations on Tuesday, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli raid. U.S. Ambassador John Danforth called it "lopsided and unbalanced," because it did not mention Palestinian rocket attacks.